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Reviews: The food speaks for itself at Caractère, according to Michael Deacon; while Restaurant 92 takes ‘admirable risks’, writes Jay Rayner

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Reviews: The food speaks for itself at Caractère, according to Michael Deacon; while Restaurant 92 takes ‘admirable risks’, writes Jay Rayner

The food speaks for itself at Diego Ferrari and Emily Roux’s Caractère in London’s Notting Hill, according to The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon

First, from the menu’s ‘Curious’ section, we had the veal sweetbread and the roast scallops. The veal sweetbread – served with roasted artichokes and olive paste – had a thick crispy exterior and a faint unexpected spiciness. The scallops – served with salsify purée, mustard and beurre blanc – were meltingly dreamy.

Personally I recommend ignoring the heading and ordering the risotto, fat cheesy blobs of pleasure, zigzagged with a reduced port sauce and sprinkled with ‘black crumble’ (Parmesan, turned black using trendy edible carbon powder). Or there’s the celeriac ‘cacio e pepe’: celeriac sliced into long slim ribbons and served in a creamy, pasta-style tangle.

On to ‘Delicate’, the fish course. Roast turbot, presented on the bone and teamed with smoked cauliflower and red-wine sauce, and then grilled monkfish, served with a raw citrus aniseed sauce (about as delicate as a jet of lemon in the eye, but still good).

My ‘Robust’ meat course was the roast rack of Herdwick lamb, pink as a major’s cheeks and explosively juicy, and accompanied by grilled aubergine.

Price: Three courses for two: about £100 without alcohol. Score: 4.5/5


restaurant-92

Chef Michael Carr takes “admirable risks” at Restaurant 92 in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, writes Jay Rayner in The Observer

Fat scallops from Orkney are joined by a wedge of charred and buttery pumpkin, crunchy pieces of boned chicken wing and a transparent glass-like crisp flavoured with sriracha sauce. It is a bold and dramatic dish and would be thrilling, were it not for the extra 45 seconds the scallops have spent in the hot pan. There is a similar problem with a turbot dish. Admirably, the fish has been cooked on the bone. Unfortunately, it’s also just overcooked which is a crying shame for such a fine piece of fish. But again, there are elements on this plate to wallow in: a cep purée with the lightest dice of tomato, and sweet salty clams alongside braised cabbage leaves. Perched on top of those leaves are bright yellow balls of saffron potato. They are completely undercooked. They slide away from my fork.

More consistent is a piece of crisp-skinned roasted guinea fowl, with fronds of roasted mushroom, a paunchy truffled potato terrine and pieces of charred sweetcorn, over which is poured a meaty, creamy old-school sauce, the good kind of brown. It could have done without the granola. I understand the desire to provide texture, but sweetened breakfast cereal is not the way to go. I do however acknowledge that a dislike of granola on savoury dishes is a long-held prejudice of mine. Others might approve. They’d be wrong, but they might.

Price: £55 for three-course à la carte. £24 three-course lunch menu. £65 tasting menu. Wines from £23


market-halls-victoria

The Evening Standard’s Jimi Famurewa is won over by the bustling chaos of the latest Market Halls opening at London’s Victoria

Let’s get the mild disappointments out of the way. Pasta bar Nonna Tonda’s torta caprese was an overly dense slice of nutty chocolate cake that felt especially humdrum in a building where puddings are in short supply.

Devilled fried potatoes from the Marksman pub’s Bunshop had an addictive, lip-prickling kick and the wibbly, precisely filled buns (particularly the Welsh rarebit with a thickened blob of the Worcestershire sauce-trumping elixir that is Henderson’s Relish) just about justified their steep fiver-a-pop price tag.

But if you are pushed for time here you really just need to go and bend the knee to the Roti King (aka Malaysian master Kalpana Sugendran Sugendran), who has turned his queue-magnet Euston restaurant into offshoot Gopal’s Corner.

We accompanied ours with terrific, blackened pieces of fried chicken and a coarse mutton ‘kari’ that reminded me of rich Nigerian stews and carried the sort of blooming chilli heat that has you happily peeling off layers of clothing.

Score: ambience: 4/5; food: 3/5


hicce-dish

“This is one of those menus where the only option is to grab its tufty collar and hang on.” The Guardian’s Grace Dent reviews Hicce in London’s King’s Cross

Hicce’s charred fresh mackerel with radicchio and kumquats is an enjoyable, bittersweet slap across the face. Cheeses are a rouelle, an Alex from Germany, and a soft, sharp Gorgonzola piccante, although being served them as an opening course may bewilder.

There’s joy in the fact that Hicce doesn’t care. Lacey’s crème caramel has quickly jumped into 2018’s not-to-be-missed dishes for London gluttons, which is ironic, because it spent years as a beige, retro lump on a dessert menu that marked a diner out as tragically safe. Lacey shows us its enduring appeal with a stiffly set but seductively yielding yellow pudding. It is a sweet bowl of 70s shtick and modern-day swagger, and you will be more relevant with every vanilla-and-caramel-syrup-laden spoon. I’ll watch this restaurant grow with interest. This is one “hicce” I don’t regret having.

Price: about £30 a head, plus drinks and service. Score: food: 7/10; atmosphere: 9/10; service: 9/10


Dave Lee of the Yorkshire Post reviews Cucina 1884 in Hessle near Hull, “a restaurant worth going out of your way for”

We ordered the panzanella as an opening salvo to see if it arrived strict Florentine or if they had their own variation. They did. Without cucumber or vinegar (the menu said balsamic but I think they forgot), it had olives instead. I shall let this transgression pass as it was still proper lovely.

The four perfectly chargrilled lamb cutlets in Cotelette Di Agnello were marvellously juicy and set off by the rosemary, garlic and anchovy sauce. The Braciole (beef stuffed with porcini, percorino, herbs and anchovies) was served in a rich tomato sauce and its basic look belied its complexity.

Equally simple-looking but with loads going on was the Cinchiale, a Tuscan-inspired pasta dish with wild boar, porcini, Chianti, crispy sage leaves and the gloriously-named Strozzapreti (or priest-strangler) pasta. It was as good as anything I’ve ever had in Italy.

Score: welcome: 4/5; food: 5/5; atmosphere: 5/5; prices: 4/5


The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin finds Camillo Benso in London’s Mayfair “defiantly mediocre”

A pizza billed as starring “Norcia’s truffle” shows little sign of its prized ingredient, just a compost of mulchy fungi and a thuggish belt of truffle oil; its dough is dense, tough and oversalted. Liver with butter and sage is bearable, if floury. Three giant, chewy ravioli come with too much mouth-puckering tomato sauce, their mozzarella stuffing curiously achieving the taste and texture of elderly cottage cheese. I leave them after two mouthfuls; no questions are asked as plates are cleared.

The only things that are flirting with the kind of quality you’d expect from this kind of attitude are some excellent carta di musica bread and fried matchsticks of zucchini. Basic stuff, though. Even cannoli are lamentable, curled out in contempt at 10 quid for four tiny, cardboardy tubes.

Price: £192 for two, including 12.5% service charge 


leroy

The Times’ Giles Coren raises an eyebrow at the prices at Casa Cruz in London’s Notting Hill and Leroy in Shoreditch (pictured)

[At Casa Cruz] the starters are mainly cold or raw (for the convenience of the kitchen, presumably) and a pile of rather fleshy raw tuna is £20, the raw artichoke is £18, quite rough vitello tonnato is £18, octopus carpaccio is £20, the John Dory is £44 and a really stinky old slow-cooked shoulder of lamb for two (I don’t know why it was so smelly, but it wasn’t nice) is £84 – with no spuds or greens or anything.

After the Moscow karaoke brothel decor of Casa Cruz, it was refreshing to find oneself in a bare corner room [at Leroy], slightly chilly, small tables, young hairy waiters not wearing 1930s elevator boy uniforms, a view of the kitchen, and to eat lush homemade goose rillettes with slices of good artisanal charcuterie and pickles (£15), a skewer of grilled quail in a delicious sauce of meat juices and honey (£7.90), a bowl of sweet, fat clams in cider with cubed chorizo (£14), five stalks of broccoli plainly dressed with anchovy (£9), three scallops with a mushroom sliced over them and some buttered spinach (£16.50), a really nice, warming saucer of soft pumpkin with chewy, sweet chestnuts under variegated white kale (£12) and a slice of rich, tangy boudin noir with four stalks of chicory (£18).

Casa Cruz score: cooking: 3/10; service: 3/10; room: 3/10; total: 3/10
Leroy score: cooking: 7/10; service: 7/10; room: 4/10; total: 6/10


HOTELS

forty-winks

Stephen McClarence describes Forty Winks in Durham as “undeniably memorable” in The Times

The stuffed head and neck of a giraffe wearing a trilby rears up in the entrance hall. In the dining room, an alligator (also stuffed) has pearls draped in its mouth. A bear with a bowler, pouffes made from elephants’ feet… There’s stuffed stuff at every turn. Forty Winks, on a quiet cobbled street in the centre of Durham, is a taxidermist’s dream, though as Deborah Gadd, the vivacious owner, acknowledges: “Not everyone is into taxidermy.” She and husband Nigel have run nightclubs, bars and restaurants (currently three in Durham) and have now turned their family home into a guest house with attitude. There are grinning clowns’ masks, a skull used as a doorstop, a diver’s helmet, a human skeleton, plus more standard antiques and Victorian portraits. Quirky fun? Camp surrealism? North-Eastern Grand Guignol? Whichever, it must all take a lot of dusting.

After the in-your-face public areas, the eight bedrooms are surprisingly restrained. Neutral colours, comfortable beds, swish bathrooms, the odd chaise longue, Nespresso . . . luxury delivered with flair and style.

Price: B&B doubles from £110. Score: 8/10

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